Irish multi-instrumentalist Declan O’Rourke played a spellbinding set at Mareel on Friday night, ably supported by local acts Chloe Robertson and Adam Guest.
O’ Rourke, who last played in Shetland two-years-ago took turns at guitar, piano and foot-drum, with his voice weaving the lot into a mesmerising, magical whole.
The Shetland Times’s very own reporter Guest opened and was the first to stare into the black void that apparently greets all artists who take the stage at Mareel. Clearly undaunted, Guest played a shurefooted set of partly blues-inflected acoustic tunes, that drew a warm round of applause from the crowd.
As well as various comical and romantic offerings, Guest, one of two relatively recent immigrants to The Shetland Times from Barnsley, sung a musical postcard to his mother entitled Salt in Every Breeze, with the lyrics “can’t explain but something just feels right” indicating he may be here for some time.
Next, Robertson delivered her own unique stylings, but opened with intriguing covers of Home and Dirty Paws, followed by six self-penned numbers.
Robertson’s strong but soulful voice, is as agile as a gymnast flitting up and down where many singers would be content to try and hit a steady note. It is a very pleasing style, but one that makes the lyrics tough to make out.
A self-effacing stage presence, Robertson proved that song-writing and inventiveness is as much part of her talent as her vocal, which one audience member compared to Nico of the Velvet Underground.
Many of her songs, the self-explanatory Insomnia, Plasticene – about feeling unable to live up to a media-created image, and Down Down Down, about getting the push, will have struck a chord witht he audience. She ended with perhaps her best known song Fish Out of Water.
O’Rourke took the stage after a short break and a very long, fog-delayed trip from Edinburgh – nonetheless he appeared as happy as a tail-wagging dog to be performing back in Shetland.
Dressed in an almost lounge lizard style, he crooned a romantic number about first dates with no-where to hide. Next, taking the piano, he was on the theme of departing lovers.
After generous thanks to Adam and Chloe, O’Rourke eased the foot-drum into the next song. Between numbers he told how he’d been picked out on a recent trip to America as a man who liked to hear a story, and boy, can he tell them too. As the set progressed, O’Rourke undertook lengthy but vastly entertaining digressions about the subjects of his tunes that added rather than detracted from the material, all delivered with the wit, charm and ease that had the audience eating out of his palm.
He moved into unexpected terrain about the Irish famine, the murder of Irish railroad navvies in Pennsylvania and perhaps strangest of all, Langley Requiem, about the demise of two excentric hoarding brothers that was deeply moving, where it could have lapsed into comedy. This song also saw O’Rourke giving full vent to his pianistic abilities, underscoring the story with powerful chords.
The audience were kept amused by his Inkspots inspired Lets Make Big Love which was the first of his, only partially successful attempts to get the crowd participating.
O’Rourke’s “offical final” number Gold Bars in the Sun is about a man torn between love of his hometown and for his wantaway girl. Of course the girl wins out.
After a hearty round of applause, O’Rourke bounded back with a bold choice of encore, an a capella number about a man wanting to marry the sea. It was astonishingly beautiful and along with the rest of the set proved O’Rourke is a consumate singer, performer, poet and musician who will hopefully make many more trips to Shetland.